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#TBT: A History of Vending

The History of Vending Machines

How far back in history do you think the vending machine goes? The industrial revolution, maybe? You might be surprised to learn that the first vending machine goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, where the Alexandrian mathematician Hero invented a coin-operated machine to dispense holy water in the year 215 BC. The Chinese got into the act
in the 11th century with coin-operated pencil vendors.a history of vending machines

However, the industrial revolution did indeed spur the growth of vending machines as we know them today. By the 19th century, vending machines started popping up all over England, selling tobacco, stamps, and even banned literature. The first vending machines in the United States were owned by the Thomas Adams Gum Company, which used them to sell Tutti-Frutti gumballs on subway platforms in New York. Gumball machines soon appeared in stores around the country.

In the early 20th century, the German automat model began to be used in the United States, thanks to Joseph Horn and German-born Frank Hardart. Horn & Hardart automats became an American institution, attracting customers from all walks of life. For a nickel per item, diners could build their own meal from a diverse array of fresh, tempting items. Horn and Hardart established uniformity for their recipes and worked from a centralized commissary system; in many ways, these popular eateries were the precursor of our own Bistro To Go™!

In 1946, the first coffee vendors changed the way working Americans consumed coffee; soon the coffee break became part of the American work day. In 1950, workers could buy sandwiches from vending machines—making lunch on-the-go much easier. In 1965, vending machines started accepting dollar bills, and people no longer needed a pocket full of change to get what they wanted.

Now, millennia after Hero’s first “vending machine,” the machine has evolved far, far beyond a simple coin-for-water system. Our vending machines and Bistro To Go™ kiosks are stocked with fresh, nutritious food that you can pay for with a credit card or even with cloud-based systems like Apple Pay. Thanks to USConnect, dining at work is more convenient than ever! What will the next technologies bring?